“It was one of the earliest memories I have of Cyprus, and it was in a very memorable village, Paleo Paphos – the site of the cult of Aphrodite.
When I first arrived in Cyprus, I worked in the Paralimni-Ayia Napa district on a hotel – as an engineer – and I had a big team of guys working for me. Every Friday, they used to stand there, after being paid, in their shirts undone to the waist – gold medallions, tight jeans, cowboy boots, greased curly hair – and go, ‘Want to go eat tonight?’
One weekend one of the guys said to me, ‘Next week we go to Paphos.’ I was like, ‘No, no, no – of course we don’t! I’m married and I have children.’ Then on the Wednesday, his wife appeared at the gates, and said, ‘His sister’s getting married, we’d like to take you to Paphos to the wedding.’ So we set off in this really battered old jeep, and it took seven hours to drive.
His family were all camping in this single-story, tiny village house. In hallways, and seven to a room. But they kept the luxury guest house for me, which was actually a converted outside toilet.
I got on famously with the bride, who was this young man’s sister. She was such a lovely girl and, of course, wanted to know all about the world outside Cyprus – never having left the island, and knowing that once she got married she probably would never leave it without her husband. So she and I would sit and talk until very late in the night. On this very last night before the wedding, we just started christening the evening with a bottle of Nama, which had been given to us by a village elder.
It was just gorgeous. The sweetness is … I could only liken it to a Madeira. It was a dark, brandy-Madeira color, slightly rose-tinted. Sweet and sticky. It would have been made before World War II.
The Cypriot word for ‘mother’ once was Nama, and it’s called that because of the pitharia [large storage jars]. They fill them with wine, stand them up, and when they come to empty them, they’re so big and heavy that they can’t up-end them completely, so there’s always a small amount of wine left. This is then the ‘mother’ of the next year’s wine.
After having done all this work cooking a feast for the wedding, we were shattered. The bride-to-be drove me down to the coast, where Aphrodite’s rock is. We sat talking and got completely plastered. She started telling me the history of Aphrodite, the island, about the village, and I was telling her about my life, and we drank the whole bottle. The bottles that you buy now are around 40 percent proof. That one, I’ve no idea. We literally couldn’t move. We couldn’t drive, and it was the night before the wedding.
So the groom’s out searching the countryside with all his friends, and they find me and the bride completely trashed on the beach on Nama. Paralyzed. It was ridiculous, because of course the wedding was that morning. They say they found us around four o’clock. We were carted back to the village, sort of in disgrace.
I was dragged out at around half-past six in the morning, and around eight they started on the bride – she looked terrible. By noon, all the villagers were around the house and they had the violinists play the 'Dance of the Clothes.' And then you’re walked to the wedding. Of course, the bride and I kept looking at each other, going, ‘Oh my God.’ I’ve never had a hangover like this in my life. It was like someone had hit me with a wooden mallet.
It was certainly the best wine I’ve ever drunk. I’ve traveled all over the world for wines, so I’ve been lucky enough to taste some of the best, but that Nama is still the fondest memory I have.
I only ever take a snifter now – you know, like a little shot glass."
As told to Rose Sneyd
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